The overrated value of a faceoff


Every so often, an analyst will talk about how a certain player deserved a “three star” nominee because he won two or three big faceoffs. Even more so often a coach will send out two centremen in a high-leverage situation to win a key, late draw. The question is whether this tactic has a tangible value.

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Let’s use the Corsi number here. The Corsi number is, of course, an advanced +/- statistic that counts every goal, saved shot, missed shot and blocked shot while a player was on the ice and is a reliable indicator of which team had possession of the puck when a player was on the ice. Since a won faceoff essentially gives one team possession over the other, logically, faceoff percentage would correlate well to a player’s Corsi number.

In the beautiful, scenic spreadsheets offered at Behind The Net there exists data on 1799 players who have played 60-or-more games over the course of a season. I looked at a few, key bits of data from those players to determine faceoff value.

Microsoft Excel kept crashing on me, so I couldn’t label the chart. However, the Y-axis indicates a player’s Corsi number while the X-axis indicates the team’s faceoff percentage while he was on the ice. I’ve added a trendline, as well:

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With an r-squared value of .015, there is little correlative value between winning a faceoff and actually turning the possession into anything tangible.

I ran a similar correlation between where a player started his shift [ Offensive zone starts / Total Offensive and Defensive Starts ] and his Corsi number. Let’s see this result:

The r-squared value is .160. It doesn’t mean that there’s a determination in where you started your shift as to having tangible possession, but it does show us that the location of the puck is more important than who actually has the puck. This is where the dump-and-chase gets away with being a still useful, method of zone-entry. A team concedes possession for puck location and works to get it back in a similar spot.

Oilers blogger Tyler Dellow has looked at the value of a faceoff on the penalty kill recently and I have to add that I’ve come up with a similar conclusion at even strength. There’s a 60-40 split between the top and the bottom regular faceoff men in the league. At 10 draws a game (roughly) that equals two touches of the puck on your defenseman’s stick before anything can happen on the play.

I will add, however, that there are some faceoff specialists who double as strong defensive players: Manny Malhotra, Jarrod Smithson, Steve Ott, Paul Gaustad and [I guess] Selke winner Ryan Kesler had strong seasons on both draws and preventing shots. Players like Zenon Konopka and Jarrett Stoll had less generous defensive numbers, and Jonathan Toews, who came second in Selke voting purely by virtue of his faceoff skill was 169th in shot prevention among the 314 forwards who had played more than 600 minutes this past season.

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  • RKD

    From a stats point of view it maybe fodder. However, winning or losing a key draw is seen of more value in how it develops into a play. It can end up resulting in a goal or a team being able to secure a last second victory.

    A better comparison would be to correlate faceoff wins vs. possession time or wins. That might be a stronger indicator of the value of a faceoff.

  • John Chambers

    Thank you, Cam Charron. I’ve grown quite tired of listening to how crappy Evgeni Malkin is because he is below average on faceoffs. Now can’t we all be happy that Zenon Konopka wasn’t given a dumptruck full of money to ply his trade in Wild Rose country?

  • Wax Man Riley

    I know what the numbers say…but without the puck in your possession, you can’t score, and if you can’t score, you can’t win.

    With this logic, we can almost throw the zonestart stat out the window, because if winning a draw doesn’t matter, then why does it matter what end of the rink you start in?

      • Wax Man Riley

        Interesting read.

        This is why I like football, I like basketball, I like rugby….

        …but I love hockey. It is a game of possession, position, transition, and reaction all rolled into one. Going by the title of this article, “The Overrated Value of a Faceoff”, the faceoff is overrated depending on how much value you put into it. I don’t believe winning a faceoff is the be-all and end-all to winning the game, but it definitely gives you an advantage.

        On a PP in the offensive zone, winning the faceoff gives you an advantage to have the puck while attacking. If you take a shot and the goalie saves, then you have another chance at that advantage without wasting 25 seconds of that powerplay by having the defensive team ice the puck.

    • Mark-LW

      The point of the article was to illustrate that zonestart is in fact more important than faceoff wins. If you lose an offensive zone faceoff then the puck is still 200ft away from your net and you have a strong possibility of retrieving it. Likewise for defensive zone starts, you may win the draw but then be able to breakout and give up a goal.